New bathroom finder app in NYC brings hope for one to be made in Chicago

By Zoë Takaki, Staff Reporter

Elias Gonzalez

When Matthew Manning moved from Georgia to New York, it was harder to find a restroom in the city.

“Typically, where I’m from, you could just walk into any restaurant, or any public place, and there would always be a restroom,” Manning said. “But when I moved to New York, there wasn’t that. As you can imagine, it’s very dense from a population standpoint. Even worse, there’s even more people and less restrooms.”

When Manning noticed people were sharing locations of private and public restrooms through word of mouth, he thought it would be a good idea to centralize the information for more people to access.

So he created “Bano,” pronounced like the Spanish word baño, a restroom finder app that sources and presents information from community contributions.

“So when someone does have to use a restroom, they’re not having to Google something; they can just pull up an app on their phone,” he said.

There are currently no Chicago specific bathroom locator apps, only national ones that proved to be less accurate and less up to date when tested by the Chronicle. The Chicago Tribune has a website page to find restrooms, but it only shows public ones and excludes cafes and other establishments that are not run by the city.

“Having boots on the ground and having a way for people in the actual cities to get feedback is super important,” he said. “There’s definitely a need for this specific problem to be hyperlocal.”

Ryan McMahon, a senior social media and digital strategy major, said people at times only know of publicly accessible bathrooms through word of mouth. He would like a Chicago app like Bano.

Manning said he wants his app to be accurate and specific, sharing important information such as if a private restroom requires a purchase, is heated or cleaned, is ADA accessible and other important characteristics.

He hopes to make the database accessible for other developers, so if Google or Apple wanted to add the data to their maps, they could. He also wants the project to be an “open source project,” meaning developers in other cities could clone the design and update it with their own local information.

Courtney Cobbs co-founded Better Streets Chicago — a transit advocacy organization that advocates for safe bike infrastructure, equitable transportation and policies that “make Chicago more livable.”

They said living in Chicago, has made them be hypervigilant about how full their bladder is before they leave their house because they do not know when they will have access to a bathroom when in the city.

Cobbs has written about the need for public restrooms and has advocated for the public restroom pilot program, a program spearheaded by Alds. Daniel La Spata (1st Ward) and Rosanna Rodriguez-Sanchez (33rd Ward) that would provide publicly available restrooms throughout City of Chicago.

While Cobbs agrees that an app would be helpful, they said a digital app can’t help everyone.

“I worry about people who don’t have a smartphone, or maybe your phone has died,” they said.

Manning said there are groups of people that are more impacted by the lack of restrooms than others. There are parents needing changing rooms, people needing access to feminine products and people with specific disabilities that require more frequent access to the restroom.

“I think there’s definitely an opportunity to give grants or other types of funding just to fuel some innovation in this area,” he said.